- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Senate passed legislation yesterday on a 60-38 vote to implement recommendations of the September 11 commission, despite the threat of a presidential veto over a provision to allow airport screeners to unionize.

The measure calls for cargo on passenger planes to be screened as carefully as luggage, guarantees each state its share of $3.1 billion in annual security funding for the next three years, with $1.3 billion allocated for high-risk urban areas, and creates an emergency-communications grant program.

“When this bill becomes law, we will have taken a critical step toward building a safer and more secure America for the generations to come,” said Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent.

The House approved its version of the bill in January. Negotiators from the House and Senate will have to iron out differences for a compromise.

What might doom the bill is a provision approved in the Senate last week that provides collective-bargaining rights to airport security screeners employed by the Transportation Security Administration. President Bush has threatened to veto any bill that includes such a provision.

“This bill would weaken national security because of a single, dangerous provision, and that is the insistence by big labor that Democrats include collective-bargaining rights for airport security screeners,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican.

Sen. Judd Gregg, New Hampshire Republican, said collective-bargaining rights for airport security screeners would be akin to allowing unions in the military.

Airport screeners “are at the front line of protecting our air transportation in this country,” Mr. Gregg said. “You must have a very focused, disciplined group protecting our airlines.”

Supporters of the provision say members of the U.S. Capitol Police, the U.S. Border Patrol and other federal security agencies have collective-bargaining rights.

“This is an issue of fairness,” Mr. Lieberman said. “It is unfortunate that it is the focus of much of the discussion because the bill is in direct response to the 9/11 commission.”

Mr. Bush’s veto threat will force congressional negotiators to review the collective-bargaining issue, and Republicans say they will work to get the provision removed.

The Senate bill allocates a larger amount of funds than the House version to ensure that all localities have basic emergency-response capabilities.

The House version more closely follows recommendations of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, which reported that homeland security funding should be based strictly on an assessment of risks and vulnerabilities, and that “Congress should not use this money as a pork barrel.”

The House bill also calls for radiation screening of all U.S.-bound cargo containers within five years. The Senate rejected a similar measure.

The White House says such a requirement would be too costly and would slow commerce to a crawl.

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